Survey finds opinions of Kennedy's life, death differ widely 35 years after his assassination

Published on Sunday, 17 November 2013 00:29 - Written by BETTY WATERS blw@tylerpaper.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the Nov. 22, 1998, edition of the Tyler Courier-Times--Telegraph. 

Thirty-five years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, most Americans - including many in Tyler, such as some University of Texas at Tyler history students - believe a conspiracy was definitely or probably behind it, surveys show.

The History Channel and Roper Starch, a New York-based market research and consulting firm, did telephone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide, finding 73 percent - nearly three of four Americans - believe conspirators killed Kennedy.

Tyler Courier-Times-Telegraph interviews with students majoring in history at UT Tyler found similar results: four of five students interviewed are convinced there was a conspiracy in the assassination of Kennedy.

David Perkins, 25, a senior from Temple, explained his belief in a conspiracy by saying, “There are too many unanswered questions, too many gaps and explanations ... the one bullet theory, the ‘magic bullet’ that reappeared in the hospital intact, too many shots fired in a short time frame from one person.”

Michelle Allen, 27, a senior from Malakoff, said, “I believe our government was involved. Back in 1991 when Oliver Stone’s movie ‘JFK’ came out, that was a turning point. It opened a lot of people’s eyes to the question of a conspiracy, whether it was the government, the Mafia, the CIA. I think it was a combination of probably all.”

She added, “Bobby Kennedy had started a campaign against the Mafia and ... of course they would retaliate to get Kennedy out of the way. President Kennedy’s father had supported the mob and got money and now his sons were going against them. Their money helped get Kennedy elected. I believe the Mafia was involved.”

Michael Mize, 22, a junior from Mineola, said he believes in a conspiracy because historical film footage that day always shows a person standing on one of the buildings in downtown Dallas before the assassination waving an American flag and above him is a man waving a Confederate flag.

“In that period, there was a lot of civil rights activity going on and I believe maybe the Ku Klux Klan was involved, possibly a governmental conspiracy,” Mize said. “It’s hard to say, but too many questions went unanswered to say that it was just one man that killed President Kennedy.”

Kerry Strong, 20, a junior from Tyler, said Kennedy had upset or disturbed too many people, such as people in Cuba and the government.

“He had too many people opposed to him; it’s impossible for one person to have completed that mission (assassination) by himself,” Strong said.

Mike Alberts, 26, a junior from New Summerfield, was the only student of the five interviewed who did not believe in a conspiracy.

“Lee Harvey Oswald wanted to make his name for history ... he was a lone man,” Alberts said.

KENNEDY REMEMBERED

In the national survey, 51 percent of those surveyed said Kennedy will be remembered for his professional work, while 34 percent said he will be remembered for his personal life.

The UT Tyler history majors had various impressions about Kennedy.

Aside from his assassination, Kennedy’s support of the space program and the moon race are what he will be remembered for, Perkins said.

Ms. Allen said, “I think he will probably be remembered as a young president who was taken away from the American people before he had a chance to go on and do great things for this country.”

But Mize speculated Kennedy will be remembered for his handling of the Cuban missile crisis and his involvement in foreign affairs.

Besides his assassination, Strong agreed, Kennedy will be remembered probably for his foreign policy, the missile crisis and domestic issues such as civil rights.

Alberts said, “You don’t tend to remember your martyred presidents unfavorably. Lincoln was at a low popularity level when he was shot. We look at him as a great president. Kennedy was at a low popularity level when he was killed; we remember him as a great president.”

Kennedy rejuvenated the presidency after the Eisenhower years and his youth was good for America, Alberts added, although he said America was kind of afraid to have someone that young as president back then.

KENNEDY’S MORALS

The national survey found 82 percent of Americans think it is probably or definitely true Kennedy was unfaithful to his wife while he was president. All of the UT Tyler students interviewed agreed.

Perkins said it is not a big deal. “The only reason Clinton’s (misbehavior) is bigger is because he lied about it in court,” Perkins said, noting affairs of other presidents have become public of late, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Kennedy’s unfaithfulness does not put a stain on his being remembered as a great president, Perkins said.

Ms. Allen also called it “irrelevant” to Kennedy’s standing in history.

“Many men in this country are that way to their wives,” she said, describing Kennedy as human and saying the people around him kept everything he did under wraps until it started coming out the past several years about his lovers.

“I think now people accept he cheated on Jackie; they don’t worry about it. Had it all come out in the 1960s, it would have made a bigger difference. He was assassinated first,” she said.

Mize said, “It was his personal life and I think we don’t have a right to sit there and judge him for some mistake that he made.”

Strong said if Kennedy’s unfaithfulness had been brought up during the time he was president, it might have had more impact.

Still, Strong said, “That didn’t have any effect on the way he ran the country and I don’t think we should take his name now and smear it through the dirt.”

Alberts, agreeing Kennedy probably was unfaithful, said as a contemporary issue it would have been important. “That goes to the president’s morality. You wouldn’t want an immoral man in that office,” he said. But, he added, “Historically speaking, why drag him through the mud now?”

GREATEST PRESIDENT

In the national survey, more people named Kennedy as the greatest president of the 20th century, followed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

None of the UT Tyler students interviewed considered Kennedy the greatest president of the century, although several named Roosevelt.

Ms. Allen named Lyndon B. Johnson, “because he was for the underdog and the ones less fortunate.”

She cited Johnson’s many great programs and his understanding of politics, calling him a student of Roosevelt. Johnson “was rough on the outside, he had a rough exterior, but he had a good heart and he had good intentions. Had he not inherited Vietnam from Kennedy, things would have been very different,” Ms. Allen said.

Mize named Ronald Reagan because of his character and appeal to the American people, partly because of having been a movie star. “He brought out a lot of good qualities in America when he was president,” Mize said.

Strong named Roosevelt, lauding him for taking over the country in the midst of the Depression and bringing up the economy.

Alberts also named Roosevelt, putting him on lists of both the best and worst presidents. He could have led America all the way into socialism, but he didn’t, Alberts said.

“That was a great benefit; his public works policy really saved America after the Depression,” Alberts said, but big government grew and the economy got entwined with the government, he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.